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Radnor Lake State Natural Area

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Radnor Lake SNA

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Radnor Lake

Photo by Steve Ward

A cold winter day at Radnor showing the lake and surrounding hills.

Location:  Nashville, Davidson County, Tennessee.
Physiographic Province:  PIF 14 (Interior Low Plateaus [Central Basin]); BCR 27 (Southeastern Coastal Plain)
Tennessee IBA Site Map - Radnor Lake
Geographical Coordinates: 
    Radnor Lake Dam--Lat. 360343N  Long. 0864827W
Elevation Range:  700' - 1160'
       777'  Radnor Lake Dam
    1,120'  Ganier Ridge
Size:  1,200 acres
USGS 7.5’ quad:  Oak Hill

Description:  In about 1910-1912, the L & N Railroad Company purchased 1,000 acres for the purpose of constructing an earthen reservoir large enough to supply water for its steam engines and livestock at Radnor Yards. In 1914, an 85-acre lake fed by Otter Creek that runs the length of the property was constructed. The gravity-fed water pipeline (65 psi) ran 5.9 miles (three air miles) to the Radnor Yards. The pipeline was opened in late 1918 after the lake slowly filled to its 1/2 billion-gallon capacity. At first the area served also as a private fishing preserve for L & N , but in 1923 they declared it a "Wildlife Sanctuary" at the request of the Tennessee Ornithological Society. This is how it remained until 1962 when bought by a construction firm, first as a fishing and recreational area for their employees and then for a housing development. Public sentiment to protect the area was heard and in 1973, 747 acres were preserved as Tennessee's first natural area and protected eco-system. Additional purchases have been made to protect essentially the entire watershed of the site.
    Habitats include: About 80% oak-hickory forest including moist cove to dry ridgetop habitats; about 13% successional old field, specifically the 133-acre "Hall Tract" (this is slowly reverting to young woods dominated by boxelder, elm, sumac, and other successional tree species) and the overflow spillway and Visitor Center areas; and about 7% lake including big slough and three wooded wet-weather tributaries including Otter Creek. The deciduous forested hills are some of the highest in the Nashville Central Basin. The highest point in Davidson County (1,163') lies about three feet outside of the natural area boundary, the majority of that ridge residing within it. Ganier Ridge (1,120') is the next highest point in the county and resides totally within the natural area. The lake is about 0.7 mile in length with a maximum width of about 0.4 mile and deepest point of 62 feet, this located about 50 yards out from the dam. The topography of the lake includes sloughs, a spillway, and several ponds. There are 5.6 miles of trails that encircle the lake and transverse the ridges and draws of the surrounding deciduous hills.

IBA Criteria: 
3, 4f, 5

Pileated Woodpeckers

Photo by Steve Ward

A pair of Pileated Woodpeckers finding lunch. This species typifies a mature woods.

Ornithological Importance:  Situated near a major metropolitan city, Nashville, this virtually intact, large mature deciduous forest stands out in an otherwise fragmented residentially developed area. With numerous ridges elevated well above the 550' average elevation of the Central Basin and a substantial sized lake (dam 777' above sea level), the site creates a major draw for migrants and deciduous nesting species.
    Note 1. The natural area contains a large tract of mature deciduous forest that attracts breeding neotropicals including Yellow-billed Cuckoo, Eastern Wood-Pewee, Acadian Flycatcher, Great Crested Flycatcher, Yellow-throated Vireo, Red-eyed Vireo, Wood Thrush, Northern Parula, Black-and-white Warbler, Prothonotary Warbler, Ovenbird, Louisiana Waterthrush, Kentucky Warbler, Hooded Warbler, Summer Tanager, and Scarlet Tanager. The site exhibits an exceptionally high species diversity with 238 recorded species (about 175 species annually) and 72 species that have bred (about 55 species annually).
    Note 2. The site is an important stopover for migrating land birds. It produces well over 500 individuals during both the spring and fall migration periods. It is also a migrant trap only eight miles from a major metropolitan area with at least 72 passerine migrant species every spring, and over 50 species in the fall. There are at least 23 waterfowl species on the lake each winter. It is exceptional for the diversity of warblers. From 1997-2003, there have been at least 19 days during spring migration with 20 or more warblers species present each day (with one day reaching 30 species). There have been at least 44 more days during spring and fall migration with 15-19 warbler species present and many more days where numbers were between 10-14 warbler species.
    Wednesday morning walks have been conducted 1987-2005 during the spring migration period of April-May and the fall migration period of September-October. During the spring period, 2000-2004 (no numbers recorded 2005), there was an average of 5 walks, 776 neoptropical individuals, and 238 warbler individuals. During the fall period, 2000-2005, there was an average of 5 walks, 710 neotropical individuals, and 234 warbler individuals. See Neotropical Wednesday Walk Totals for a summary of the number of neotropical species and individuals by year and by date on these spring and fall walks in the period 2000-2005.
    Spring counts (1973-2005) and fall counts (1972-2005) have been conducted at Radnor Lake as part of the Nashville Chapter of the Tennessee Ornithological Society (Nashville Chapter TOS) annual Spring Count and Fall Count. In the fall period 2000-2005, an average of 47 species were counted of which 23.5 species (50%) were neotropical. See Neotropical Fall Count Totals for a summary of number of neotropical species and individuals on these fall counts, 2000-2005. In the spring period 2000-2005, an average of 76 species were counted of which 45 species (59.5%) were neotropical.See Neotropical Spring Count Totals for a summary of number of neotropical species and individuals on these spring counts, 2000-2005.
    Note 3. A MAPS station at 780' elevation has been conducted for nine years in the "Hall Tract," 1997-2005. The habitat is mainly deciduous on mostly level terrain with several small streams that run most of the summer depending on precipitation. There are eight banding sessions--one in May, three in June, three in July, and one in August. Eight to ten 12-meter nets are used. In the period, 1997-2004, 44 species (21.75 species/year) of  705 individuals (88.1 individuals/year) were banded. In the period, 2001-2004, 15 neotropical species of 60 individuals were banded, the most numerous being Kentucky Warbler (high of 11 birds (2001) and low of  3 birds (2004), average 7 birds/year), Louisiana Waterthrush (3.75 birds/year), and White-eyed Vireo. Longevity records of neotropical species in the period, 1997-2004, include White-eyed Vireo (one 3 years old, banded hatching year), Kentucky Warbler (two 4 years old and two 6 years old), Louisiana Waterthrush (one 5 years old), and Indigo Bunting (one 7 years old).
    Note 4. A banding station has been ongoing for ten years in the "Hall Tract," during the spring and fall from 1995-2005. Habitat is mainly secondary growth around the dam of the back pond with larger trees on the hills in the background. From 1995-2005, 2,274 birds were banded of 83 species. Of these, 734 were neotropical migrants of 47 species. There were 325 returns of 233 individuals, 43 of these neotropical migrants. Longevity records of returns in the period 1995-2005 include the following:  Neotropical species--White-eyed Vireo (one 3 years old and one 5 years old), Kentucky Warbler (one 3 years old and one 4 years old), and Indigo Bunting (one 4 years old, one 5 years old and one 7 years old); Winter species--Ruby-crowned Kinglet (one 3 years old) and White-throated Sparrow (two 4 years old and one 5 years old); and  Year-round species--Carolina Wren (one 4 years old) and Northern Cardinal (one 4 years old and one 9 years old).
    Note 5. The site has been monitored by the Nashville Chapter TOS by various census techniques since 1950. These include National Audubon Christmas Bird Counts (Nashville CBC) 1950-2005; Fall Birds Counts 1972-2004, Spring Bird Counts 1973-2005, and Wednesday morning walks for 4-6 consecutive weeks spring and fall 1987-2005. This data is retained by the curator of the Nashville Chapter TOS and made available for publication in the Tennessee Ornithological Society's state publication, The Migrant, and national publications.

Site Criteria



Avg. No Season

Max. No. Season

Years of Data


3Habitat:  Mature Deciduous Forest (See Note 1 above.)B   6, 7e, 7f
4fLand Birds: Migratory Stopover/"Migrant Trap" (See Note 2 above.)SM, FM   6, 7a,  7e, 7f
5Monitoring:  MAPS station  (See Note 3 above.)B  1997-20057b, 7c
5Monitoring:  Banding station  (See Note 4 above.)SM, FM  1995-20057c, 7d
5Monitoring: Long-term Census (See Note 5 above.)W, SM, FM  1950-20057a
Season1   B = Breeding, W = Wintering, SM = Spring Migration, FM = Fall Migration
Source 2  1-Atlas Breeding Birds of Tennessee 2-Breeding Bird Surveys 3-Christmas Bird Counts
4-Point Counts 5-Refuge Counts 6-Personal observations (Jan Shaw)
7-Other (a-Nashville Chapter TOS spring counts, fall counts, and  Wednesday morning walks spring and fall;
b-Portia Macmillan, c-Ethel Kawamura, d-Jane Marzoni, e-Phillip Castel, f-Frank Fekel)

Ownership:  State of Tennessee, Department of Environment and Conservation.
   Contact:  Steve Ward, Manager, Radnor Lake State Natural Area, 1160 Otter Creek Road, Nashville, TN 37220, 615-373-3467, steve.ward@state.tn.us. Tennessee State Parks, 401 Church Street, L & C Tower, 7th Floor, Nashville, Tennessee 37243-0435, 1-888-TN Parks.

Conservation Concerns:  Critical concerns include disturbance to birds, commercial development, residential development, hunting conflict, and introduced plants/animals. Serious concerns include recreational development/overuse, succession, and pesticides. Major concerns include water pollution, air pollution, fishing conflict, deforestation, forestation, and predation. Potential concern includes natural pests/disease.

Management Program:  There is a 1988 master plan that is outdated. A new master plan is being drafted and expected for review in late 2005. Friends of Radnor Lake,   have secured land within the watershed and are active in the preservation and management of the natural area.

Submitted by:  Jan Shaw, 5019 Timberhill Drive, Nashville, TN 37211, 615-331-2232, jankshaw@aol.com.

Additional Contributors:   Steve Ward, Randy Hedgepath, Portia Macmillan, Ethel Kawamura, John Froeschaeur, Elizabeth O'Connor.

Approved as an IBA site:  January 2006--Yes 7  No 0

This page was last updated on 02/19/06.